2012 was an incredible year for mirrorless cameras and hybrid photography. It was a year that saw the launch of several breakthrough cameras and lenses as well as serious advancements in sensor technology, lighting and innovations such as Wi-Fi. The world of photography is changing, folks… Hybrid isn’t just coming, it’s already here, and as we look back on 2012 a few years from now, we just might recognize that THIS was the year that started it all.
The following are the favorite cameras, lenses and technological breakthroughs in 2102 of that I’ve compiled from a direct poll of, or from conversations with, the Hybrid Heroes on DiscoverMirrorless.com. There were numerous factors that went into each selection, including the quality of each product, it’s value and intangibles such as how it feels in the hand, how easy it is to use, etc.
Why are there no DSLRs on the list?
Folks, I or any of the other Hybrid Heroes on DiscoverMirrorless are not here to cheerlead for any specific brand name or type of camera. We just talk about the cameras and lenses that we actually use and what is working the best for us.
2012 was also a great year for DSLRs (or DSLTs like the Sony A99). Canon and Nikon each launched some great cameras in 2012 that got a lot of people excited, but on this website, our focus is on Hybrid Photography – the skillful blending of still photos, video, audio and graphics to create a whole new art form (and make no mistake, THIS IS where the industry is headed). Frankly, DSLRs are big, they’re bulky, and they’re designed around 50 year old technology. A DSLR is basically a film camera that has been adapted to digital, and in my opinion, video was added on almost as an afterthought. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I am not trying to diss on DSLRs. I, and all of the other contributors and Hybrid Heroes on this website have used (and some still use) DSLRs. We all have tremendous respect and love for those who still choose to use them (that’s your prerogative) and for their skill in the art of photography, but as we move into Hybrid, I’m personally finding that the new mirrorless camera systems are much more suited to shooting video and the latest advances in sensor and processing technology have closed the gap in still photo image quality. Couple that with the fact that they’re smaller, lighter, less expensive and easier to use and… well, you get the point.
So without further ado, here are our picks for the very best of 2012.
Best Compact Camera of 2012
- Sony RX1 – This revolutionary camera packs a 35mm full frame sensor into one of the smallest compact cameras around, and affixes a top notch Carl Zeiss lens to the front. At $2800 USD, it’s pricey… and the a ‘la carte add ons like the EVF, lens hood and thumb rest can add up on you pretty quickly, but this little bad boy is high quality all the way. It’s Sony’s answer to a Leica and is a great pick for photo pros and serious enthusiasts who want a second, go anywhere system. You have to wonder if Sony will launch an interchangeable lens version with a built in EVF in the near future.
- Tie between the Sony RX100 and the Panasonic Lumix LX7 – The Sony has a great, 20mp sensor and was chosen as one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2012. The Panasonic comes in at half the mp (10 vs the Sony’s 20) but has an incredible, bright and fast lens that more than makes up for the difference in megapixels (when considering cameras, always save on the body and spend on the lens!). At $150 list price less than the RX100, the Lumix LX7 is also one of the best bargains among compact cameras.
Best Still Photo Camera of 2012
- Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1 – Sony make some of the best sensors on the planet, but the Fuji X Trans Sensor and Processor are unparallelled when it comes to still photo image quality, giving them an ever so slight advantage over the Sonys. These Fuji Cameras will produce some of the most beautiful images that you’ll ever see, bar none.
- Tie between the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Panasonic Lumix GH3 – These two micro 4/3 flagship cameras are the top of the class, and even though they’re loaded with Sony Sensors, they beat out the NEX series because of the abundance of high quality native lenses available. These camera are proving that sensor size doesn’t necessarily matter where image quality is concerned, and the amazing still photo and video image quality of the OM-D E-M5 and Lumix GH3 have many Pro-togs trading in their DSLR Gear (and Chiropractor fees) to travel small and shoot big.
- Sony NEX series – These are some of the most popular cameras around today, and Sony are usually among the first to incorporate new technology into their cameras (witness the Wi-Fi and App systems built in to the new NEX 5R and NEX 6). Sony cameras produce stunning quality images in stills and video, and the only thing that’s keeping the NEX series from rising higher on the list is the relative lack of high quality native lenses.
Best Video Camera (under $3000) of 2012
- BlackMagic Cinema Camera – The BMC is another example of the fact that sensor size doesn’t matter as much in the era of advanced sensor technology, as it will pack 2.5k resolution onto a relatively small sensor. The BMC accepts EF and ZE lenses and a micro 4/3 version is in the works. It’s cameras like this, the Panasonic Lumix GH3 (and even it’s predecessor, the GH2, which was one of the top cameras in the Zacuto Shootout, 2012 – as chosen by Hollywood elite directors and cinematographers) that have large movie camera makers like Arri and Red dropping their prices, as filmmakers all over the world are beginning to realize that they can get comparable quality from these smaller, less expensive cameras.
- Panasonic Lumix GH3 – One of the most highly anticipated releases of 2012, the GH3 is the successor to the Lumix GH2, which was highly celebrated as a video camera. with the Lumix GH3, Panasonic have taken the success of the GH2 to the next level, incorporating more pro-level features and higher resolution.
- Sony NEX VG-900 – This handycam style camera is a more professional version of the NEX VG-10 (and VG-20 and VG-30) that is equipped with a 35mm full frame Sony sensor. It’s compatible with NEX E-Mount lenses and is adaptable to accept Sony Alpha A-Mount lenses as well.
Best Hybrid Camera of 2012
- Panasonic Lumix GH3 – The GH3 is a transformational camera. In my opinion, it’s the top Hybrid Camera in the world today, boasting equal ability to produce superb quality still photos and video. It’s build quality, menu systems and control layout (this thing is ergonomically set up equally well to shoot stills and video) are top notch, and coupled with the new pro zoom lenses, Panasonic have hit a home run and surpassed nearly every expectation that I had. If I had to choose only one camera with which I could shoot, it would be the Lumix GH3. When you couple the GH3′s familiar form factor with the superb quality of the images that it produces, it’s easy to see that this is the camera that will have many DSLR users migrating to mirrorless.
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 – This camera garnered a of of attention when it was released earlier in the year, mostly for it’s retro styling that harkened back to the Olympus Cameras of the 1980s. But once it got into the hands of photographers, they began to realize that there was much more to this camera than meets the eye. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was the first micro 4/3 camera that could legitimately compete with established DSLRs in still image quality, and it’s blazing fast autofocus and revolutionary 5 point In Body Image Stabilization System make it a formidable video shooter as well. The latest rumor has Olympus discontinuing it’s E-5 DSLR line in favor of a slightly smaller mirrorless system (hmmmm… sounds like it could be about the same size as the GH3) that will accept micro 4/3 lenses as well as 4/3 lenses. It makes me wonder whether Olympus are targeting a more powerful Hybrid Camera in 2013, and that 5 point IBIS could put it among the elite class of video cameras.
- Sony NEX 6 – One of the newest NEX cameras, it’s meant to fit into the lineup between the new NEX 5R and the flagship NEX 7. The NEX 6 is roughly the same size and shape as the NEX7, and although it only has a 16mp sensor vs the 24mp sensor in the 7, the NEX 6 has garnered much critical acclaim for image quality in stills and video, with many preferring it to the 7. Coupled with the fact that the NEX 6 incorporates the latest technology and Wi-Fi capabilities and it’s easy to see that this camera has a bright future.
Best Lenses of 2012
- Tie between the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 prime and the Panasonic 12-35mm &35-100mm f/2.8 “X” power zoom lenses – One of the biggest strengths of micro 4/3 cameras is the arsenal of high quality native lenses available for M43 camera systems, and Panasonic and Olympus (and even 3rd party manufacturers like Voightlander Nokton, Sigma, Rokinon, etc.) have been churning out high quality “professional grade” glass that put them on an equal playing field with “professional” cameras. These new lenses have a high build quality, are smaller, lighter and are relatively affordable when compared to their DSLR counterparts.
- Fuji X Lenses – There are very few of these lenses available at this point, but the ones that Fuji do have are high quality and are part of the reason why the X-Series cameras produce such great images. Fuji promise that more lenses are on the way in 2013.
Sleeper Camera of the Year
- The Panasonic Lumix G5 – The Lumix G5 is the successor to the popular Lumix G3, and represents a tremendous step forward from that model. It’s loaded with the same sensor as the former flagship Lumix GH2, but in the G5 that sensor is powered by Panasonic’s all new Venus processing engine, which gets the most out of that powerful sensor. The G5 has broad appeal for novices and advanced shooters alike, as it’s intelligent auto functions, scene modes and creative filters will allow relative newbies to use it (and get great results), and advanced shooters will enjoy it’s manual controls and customizable features. It produces stellar quality still photos and video up to 1080p at 60 fps. Although it was launched with some fanfare in the summer of 2012, when Getty Images photographer Dean Mouhtaropoulos used the Lumix G5 to shoot the 2012 London Olympic Games, it seemed to get lost in the shuffle with all the big camera and lens releases during the autumn trade shows. But the Panasonic Lumix G5 should definitely NOT be overlooked!
Breakthroughs of 2012
- Wi-Fi, Apps and “Smart” Cameras – 2012 is the year that marked the advent of the “Smart” camera, as systems like the Sony NEX 5R and NEX 6 and the Panasonic Lumix GH3 have Wi-Fi capabilities built right into them, and others such as the new Olympus PEN Mini E-PM2 and PEN Lite E-PL5 came bundles with Wi-Fi cards (We predict that W-Fi cards will only be around for a short time, as it won’t be too long before ALL new cameras come with built in Wi-Fi). Samsung have even released the “Galaxy Camera”, which is powered by the Android Jellybean OS. Although it’s not the greatest camera in the world, it is the first “Smart” camera to be launched, and you can look for many more in the not too distant future. In much the same way that wireless connectivity and apps transformed the mobile phone industry, we expect to see Wi-Fi cameras that are capable of instantly sharing images and video to the web or mobile devices, and that have apps that will allow you to manipulate your images and videos in any number or ways become common place, thus transforming photography.
- LED Lighting – This technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, and where earlier efforts might have provided you with iffy consistency in color, the newer lights are bright, have adjustable brightness, and are consistent. As we move into the Hybrid Photography era, where video is such a huge component, look for a move away from traditional flash systems and into LEDs which can be used as flash while shooting still photos or be “always on” while shooting video.
- Olympus OM-D E-M5 5 Point IBIS – Rock solid image stabilization as good as any steadycam. It’s going to be interesting to see what Olympus have in store in 2013!
Predictions for of 2013
- Migration to Mirrorless begins in earnest – New cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH3, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Fuji X Series have closed the gap in image quality with large, bulky and heavy DSLR systems. Mirrorless sensor technology has advanced tremendously in the last few years, and will only continue to do so while DSLRs are advancing much more slowly. Since the mirrorless systems are smaller, lighter, easier to use and less expensive, I believe the migration to mirrorless will pick up steam in 2013.
- More Hybrid Cameras – Look for companies like Olympus, Fuji and Sony to up their game in the video department while Panasonic continues to move forward. As more photographers demand equal still photo and video capabilities from their cameras, the smarter companies will step forward to fill the demand. Samsung may be a dark horse here.
- 4k resolution will become a big buzz word – Just like the megapixel race of a few years ago, 4k resolution will become the next big thing. This might be the marketing tool that Canon and Nikon use to hold on to their market share when their customers begin to move over to mirrorless. But just how much resolution do we really need?
- There will be a movement away from traditional printed photos and towards Hybrid eProducts – As more and more people are carrying around smart devices such as iPhones, iPads and Galaxy phones and tablets, the need to be able to deliver products directly to these devices or to upload them to Facebook, Twitter, etc. is becoming increasingly great. The smarter photographer will stay informed about new and innovative products that are being created that can easily be shared with and displayed on all these smart devices, and we will strive to keep you ahead of the curve on all the latest developments!